This teenager and baby girl aren’t related by blood but they do have an unbreakable bond… they share the same LIVER.
Kendall Haverty, 17, smiles as she cuddles her 11-month-old ‘liver sister’ Ava Danhoff in a touching photo taken after they underwent a split liver transplant.
Both girls were on the transplant list and desperately in need of a life-saving new liver when a donor who was a mutual match died.
Doctors performed a procedure which saw Kendall receive 70 per cent of a deceased donor’s organ while Ava, who was in the adjacent operating theatre, got 30 per cent.
They are both on the road to recovery after a combined 12 hours of surgery at Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, US, in August.
And as well as their newfound health, Ava and Kendall have developed a special connection which their families say will link them for the rest of their lives.
Ana’s mom Michelle Danhoff, 28, said: “Before the transplant, Ava was so weak and she couldn’t even hold her head up.
“Now she is crawling, walking and eating. It’s amazing. You would never know she has been through what she has been through.
“I’m forever grateful to the person who donated their liver. Ava was so close to losing her battle but she has had a second chance – and we’ve got our daughter back.
“I feel like her and Kendall are going to be friends for life.”
Kendall, who hopes to go to college to study phlebotomy, added: “Before I was in a lot of pain and swelling and I never had the energy to do anything.
“Now I’m pretty much back to normal and I’m feeling so positive about the future.
“When I first walked into Ava’s room after the transplant it was crazy to see how different she looked.
“It’s made such a huge difference to both of us, and it’s just crazy to think that someone’s liver is inside both of our bodies.
“Our families will be tied together forever.”
Ava was born healthy but diagnosed with biliary atresia, meaning she had an absent bile duct, at the age of eight weeks after her parents noticed her eyes and skin were yellow.
The tot’s mom Michelle, who also has a three-year-old son, Madden, with her PE teacher husband Larry, 28, said: “They told us that if she didn’t have treatment she would die.
“My heart sank. It was a time crunch and I immediately panicked.”
Doctors performed a Kasai surgical procedure, where a new duct was created from the baby’s intestine, but the operation was unsuccessful.
Ava’s condition deteriorated rapidly – she became frail because she wasn’t eating, vomited constantly and fluid built up in her stomach, causing severe swelling.
Michelle added: “We got our hopes up with the first treatment but it became clear it hadn’t worked, which was devastating.
“She was so skinny at this point. She was almost down to her birth weight.”
On June 5, six-month-old Ava, from Lake in the Hills, Illinois, was added to the waiting list for a new liver.
Two months later, Kendall, of neighbouring Lakemore, was added too.
Since the age of 11 Kendall had been battling autoimmune hepatitis, a chronic liver disease which she initially controlled with medication.
When she was 13 doctors discovered that the youngster also had primary biliary cirrhosis, a condition which results in the bile ducts being slowly destroyed.
She was added to the liver transplant list after the disease turned her skin and eyes yellow and caused her severe joint pain, stomach discomfort and swelled her spleen.
On August 3, the families of both girls received a call saying a potential liver had become available which was a blood group match for them both.
Kendall’s mom Kerrie, a hotel food director who has two other daughters with husband Bryan, 52, said: “We didn’t have to wait for 24 hours and that miracle happened.
“They said a little baby only needed part of the liver and it would be a perfect size for Kendall to have the rest.”
The operation took place on August 5 and while Ava and Kendall were under the knife their anxious families kept one another company in the waiting room.
Dr Riccardo Superina, Head of Transplant Surgery at the children’s hospital, said: “We took the organ that was allocated and divided it into two segments.
“Ava is a baby and Kendall is a big girl so we have to make sure that they both get the adequate amount of liver. It went really well.”
Over 75,000 patients are currently awaiting an organ transplant and on average, 20 people die each day in the US while on the list.
Meanwhile in the UK, the average waiting time for a liver transplant is 144 days for adults and 72 days for children.
Had the donor match not become available when it did, both girls may have died.
Kendall’s mom Kerrie, 47, said: “When Kendall woke up after the surgery it was absolutely amazing to me that I looked into her eyes and they were white again.”
The teenager was reunited with Ava three days later and the pair have since developed an adorable friendship.
Their families – who live just 20 minutes apart – chat regularly and even coordinate the girls’ follow-up appointments so they can support each other.
Dr Superina said: “It’s unusual for recipients of the same split liver to meet because most of the time the patients are not being looked after in the same situation.”
Ava and Kendall’s renal doctor, Dr Saeed Mohammad, Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, added: “Ava has bounced back fully and Kendall is also doing well.
“There are not enough organs to go around and many patients die while waiting, so it is remarkable that we were able to split this liver and treat two people.”